Donald Trump endorses Ron Johnson in 2022 U.S. Senate race, drawing a sharp rebuke from Democrats

President Donald Trump invites Sen. Ron Johnson to speak after he was introduced at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena where the president held a campaign rally in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020.

The election is more than a year away and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson hasn’t yet announced if he’s even running for a third term.

But that didn’t stop Donald Trump from making an early intervention Thursday in the key Wisconsin race as the former president served up an endorsement and urged Johnson to “Run, Ron, Run.”

“Even though he has not yet announced that he is running, and I certainly hope he does, I am giving my Complete and Total Endorsement to Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin,” Trump said in a statement released by Save America PAC.

“He is brave, he is bold, he loves our Country, our Military, and our Vets,” Trump said. “He will protect our Second Amendment, and everything else we stand for. It is the kind of courage we need in the U.S. Senate. He has no idea how popular he is. Run, Ron, Run!”

The move drew immediate push back from Democratic candidates Alex Lasry and Tom Nelson. Lasry called Johnson the former president’s “most trusted lackey,” while Nelson said Johnson got “a pat on the head from the worst president ever.”

The endorsement came ahead of this weekend’s Republican National Committee’s spring donor retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, where Johnson is scheduled to be one of the speakers. Trump is also expected to speak to the donors at a cocktail event at Mar-a-Lago.

Johnson has indicated he’ll take his time before deciding whether to run next year. But he said of the endorsement: “I appreciate President Trump’s words of support and encouragement.” 

Johnson has emerged as a key Trump ally. He campaigned alongside the former president last year and was among senators to challenge the election results. He ultimately voted to certify the results after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Johnson later faced accusations of racism after saying the supporters of former Trump who stormed the U.S. Capitol in January didn’t worry him but that he might have been concerned if they had been supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. Johnson denied the accusations

Meanwhile, a competitive Democratic primary is shaping up. The runners include Lasry, on leave from his executive job with the Milwaukee Bucks, and Nelson, the Outagamie County executive.

Lasry tweeted of the endorsement: “Ron Johnson has been Donald Trump’s most trusted lackey in the U.S. Senate. It’s no surprise that Trump is supporting him for reelection. We need a Senator who will work for Wisconsinites, not for his political allies.”

Nelson also weighed in with a tweet: “Ron Johnson spent four years begging for Trump’s approval, from lying about COVID to flying to Russia for the 4th of July to helping him incite the Capitol insurrection. So congrats, @SenRonJohnson, you’ve got yourself a pat on the head from the worst president ever.”

State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes are among several Democrats considering running. 

Steven Olikara, the founder of a nonprofit that encourages bipartisan political cooperation among young leaders, told the Journal Sentinel Thursday he was considering a run. Olikara stepped down this week as chief executive officer for his non-profit, the Millennial Action Project.